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US envoy says other Velosos may be out there

BAGUIO CITY, Philippines—United States Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg on Friday cited the case of drug convict Mary Jane Veloso as representing the ills of modern slavery and human trafficking.

“The population here in the Philippines is so vulnerable to this modern slavery. It’s easy to see why. So many Filipinos are looking for work, and especially work abroad,” Goldberg said.

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At an anti-human trafficking forum hosted by the Baguio City government, the US official cited the case of Veloso, who is facing execution in Indonesia for allegedly smuggling illegal drugs in 2010.

Warned Goldberg: “(Human trafficking happens) if you are approached and given the idea that you’re going to find a job, and instead are tricked in the most inhumane way into doing something else. In (Veloso’s) case, it’s drug trafficking. But in other cases, (it’s) prostitution through no fault of the victim.”

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He said the US State Department estimates that there are between 12 million and 27 million victims of human trafficking in the world. “Approximately 80 percent of commercially-exploited victims of the sex trade are women and girls,” he added.

Under 17 years old

Citing Philippine statistics, Goldberg said 75 percent of trafficked Filipino women are under 17 years old.

In the same forum, councilor Betty Lourdes Tabanda said Baguio has been monitoring reports that traffickers have been bringing their victims to this city, a potential problem that the city government wants to nip in the bud, she added.

Some reports said traffickers have started marketing Baguio as a sex tourism venue, Tabanda said.

According to a report given by Senior Supt. Jimmy Catanes, regional director of the Police Criminal Detection and Investigation Unit, as many as 25 juveniles has been prostituted in the Cordillera from 2014 to the present, many of them recruited for other jobs in the city,

The US State Department has been assisting and encouraging groups in the Philippines to dedicate themselves to the fight against human trafficking through competitive grants, according to the US ambassador.

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When the United States helped survivors of Super Typhoon “Yolanda” in 2013, one of its first impulse was to warn people against the false inducements offered by human traffickers, Goldberg said.

“We were very worried… about what would happen to the people there, (especially) the women and the children because that’s a vulnerable population,” he said.

“So we doubled down in our assistance with the local governments to try to prevent this population from being exploited,” by teaching people about how traffickers trick their recruits, Goldberg added.

The ambassador agreed that education was a good weapon against traffickers, after Dr. Marita Viloria of the civic group, Kalinga Ministry, presented an outline of their projects.

Viloria said her group offers psychological and social services to local entertainers in the underground sex trade.

“When their work is no longer appropriate for them because of their advancing age, the ministry offers them educational prospects as a `transitional exit strategy,’” she said.

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TAGS: Human trafficking, Mary Jane Veloso, Modern Slavery, Philip Goldberg, Veloso
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